Birkenhead Has First Tram in Europe
Sadly Britain cannot claim to have been global pioneers of the tram, that honour belonging to the USA where systems ran in New Orleans and New York in the 1850s. But at least we were the first in Europe to install and run a tramway proper – though again that has to be qualified, as it was an American entrepreneur George Francis Train who brought the innovation to Birkenhead. Train even imported the parts for the system from the USA, assembling them in the Wirral .
Quite why Birkenhead was chosen above other towns is not entirely clear, though as Train made his fortune in shipping that may well be the link with Merseyside. The then Chairman of the Town Commissioners of that august settlement, one John Laird, was persuaded by Train to facilitate a six-month trial of the tramway, the first (horse-drawn) tram running on it on August 30 1860.
The inaugural route was from Woodside Ferry to the main entrance ofBirkenhead Park , rather poetically circular recompense for the fact that Birkenhead’s great green space had been one of the major inspirations behind the design of New York’s Central Park which had opened three years previously.
Such was the popularity of the new transportation that the six-month trial turned into a 77 year run, the town’s tramway system as with so many others closing shortly before WWII . Those interested in transport history may be pleased to learn that part of the original route chosen by Train is today once again operating, used by a heritage organisation to showcase its restored trams .
Less than a year after his first tram ran in Birkenhead George Francis Train had established a line in London , running between Notting Hill and Marble Arch, where services began on March 23 1861.